“Another event you’ll be doing is senior prom.”
This time, the groans are louder. Diamond smiles and shakes his head.
“Wrong kind of prom. This senior prom will be held at the community center, and it’s for the residents of the retirement home. Now just because they’re of age doesn’t mean there will be drinking. I don’t care what they try to slip you. You’re expected to dance, talk baseball, and entertain. I’ve been to a few; they’re fun. You just need to remember that the people attending probably haven’t done this type of thing in a long time.
“And don’t forget about the charity golf tournament. You’re all expected to be there.”
Diamond continues to go on about the expectations while in Fort Myers, how he has an open door policy, and reminds us that we take the field in two weeks. It’s crazy to think, but all-day conditioning and practicing will get us ready for preseason play. Everything else we’ll fix along the way.
“Before you leave tonight, don’t forget to pick up your uniforms. This year, we’ll be wearing three different hats instead of the normal two. And don’t forget your autograph sessions. Your schedule is in your binder.”
I flip through the binder as everyone gets up to leave. I look around and find the other rookies doing the same thing. We’re in this boat together, even if we’re miles apart on the playing field.
“Hey, rookie?” I look up at the sound of Davenport’s voice. “We’re heading to dinner. Do you want to come?”
The truth is, no, I don’t. I’d rather go back to the apartment and learn the plays, but to tell him no would be foolish.
“Yeah, of course,” I say, scrambling to gather my things.
p; Chapter 2
“Do you miss this?”
Glancing over at Bruce and seeing a smile that likely matches mine answers his question. It’s only a matter of seconds before I turn my gaze back to the fifteen-foot cow who is pacing her sawdust-laden stall, waiting for her first calf to be born. I have been anticipating this moment since I first thought Jambo was pregnant. Later, an ultrasound confirmed what I and my co-workers thought: We were going to have a calf among our giraffe population. That was almost thirteen months ago, and so much as has changed for me since.
“I do. I miss being with them so much. The giraffes have always been my favorite. Even in college, I found myself focusing on them, their habitat, and their interaction with humans.” About the time Jambo’s pregnancy was announced, I had to step down from my job as a zookeeper due to the long hours and always being on call. It wasn’t an easy decision, but my mother is fighting cancer, and it’s more important that I’m there for her. Still, it’s times like this when I truly miss my job, even though I still hold a position in the front office of the zoo. Being hands-on with the animals, particularly the giraffes, is my passion.
“Thank you for calling me, Bruce,” I say, focusing my attention on Jambo. I knew she was due to give birth, and when Bruce called to tell me that she had started pacing, I raced down here, not caring that it was two in the morning and thankful that my mother’s part-time in-home nurse agreed to come when I needed her. I didn’t want to miss this experience.
“You deserve to be here, Ainsley. Jambo is your baby.”
He’s right, she is. She was over a year old when she came to live at the zoo, and it took us a while to bond, but once we did, I could call for her from across the yard and she’d trot over to me. This proves especially fruitful when I occasionally volunteer to lead the feeding sessions. Even though I can enter their sanctuary at any time, sometimes it’s better for me to try to distance myself, yet I can’t always stay away.
“There’s enough padding, right?”
“Of course. I set the large mat down last week and put about eight inches of sawdust down myself three days ago, with a fresh layer this morning. The calf will be fine, Ainsley, don’t worry.”
“I know. I can’t help it, though. Jambo is a first-time mom, and I want everything to be perfect for her.”
Bruce doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. He knows what I’m thinking. We’ve all been so worried that something would go wrong after a calf at another zoo was delivered stillborn a few months ago. Since then, that giraffe has had trouble integrating back into the yard with the others. Even animals suffer from depression, and it can be hard to treat them properly.
“Bruce, look.” I point toward Jambo as hooves start to appear. Bruce mutters the time, and I know he’s writing it on his clipboard because that is what I’d be doing if this were still my job. Tears well in my eyes as I watch an animal I love dearly bring her first child into this world.
Watching her give birth is in complete contrast to how I spent my day, sitting beside my mom while she received her chemo with her eyes closed and her hand pressed tightly into mine. I spent most of my day re-reading over the same pages of the magazine I brought because it was the only thing that could keep my attention long enough.
My mother is dying, while Jambo is giving birth. It seems like an odd form of irony when I think about it. Shortly after the news broke about Jambo’s pregnancy, my mom was diagnosed with stage-four gastric cancer. I have yet to come to terms with her prognosis: I’m still waiting for a drug to miraculously become available that wipes out every nasty cancer cell ever discovered, but I know deep in my heart that it won’t happen.
The chaplain always seems to come around when my mother is receiving her treatments. At first, it didn’t bother me, but now it does. He says to pray, and I question: for what? Do I pray that this is all a dream and that, when I wake up, everything is back to normal?
Or do I forgo praying and instead pinch myself to wake up from this nightmare? Neither option right now seems to be the right answer.
My mother, she’s all I have. My father bailed before I was born, and she raised me by herself. My grandparents are around, but they can’t help. They try, but they’re old and frail, and watching their only daughter die isn’t something they’re taking very well.
So I’m there for her with no questions asked. It’s where I want to be. It’s where I need to be. She didn’t have to keep me, but she did. So I’m there with a smile on my face, tending to her while her body is pumped full of drugs that are going to make her puke her guts out later, make her hair fall out and cause her to cry each time she looks in the mirror, and make her weak, even though she’s the strongest woman I know, because she was always there for me.